Geomentoring Workshop for Teachers

The first exposure I had to the term, “geomentoring,” was about almost two years ago. Conferences tend to be little more than large accumulations of people who passionately disclose to conference-goers how their innovative bit of plastic and germanium is awesome and their competitors competing product is shit.

But, if one can go to sub-conference conferences, like the Education Conference of the ESRI International Conference, then one might pick up some wisdom nuggets.

The idea behind geomentoring is predicated on the notion of people who are currently educated about geospatial technologies aid and assist those who are not so educated about such technologies. Sort of like being a geo-consultant, consulting about nuances of geospatial technology, methods, and procedures.

Years ago, I was a consultant for a GIS software and hardware start-up in the agriculture sector. I worked with the software and hardware team. They knew the technology; I knew the geography. I would get questions like, “Do I need the header information for this satellite imagery?” and “What does state-plane coordinates mean?” The programmers knew programming but they didn’t know geography. At least, not the geospatial tech of geography.

As people awake to the realization of how truly geography is infused in our lives, and how embedded, literally embedded, geography is in many of our devices, more people will need guidance in understanding their place in geography, and maybe even geography in their place.

Watch this video.

OK, if you took the time to watch the video you now have a good idea about what I am taking about. Geography is swirled with technological goodness just like a good coffee cake is swirled with cinnamon, sugar, and pecans.

Unlike a good coffee cake, understanding how to make and consume the technological aspect of geography does not come naturally to people. Maybe more precisely, does not come naturally to all people; or, comes naturally to only a few people. Yeesh; people are touchy these days about generalizations.

My point is, many educated people are not savvy to the details of geospatial technology and they need guidance to work in the geospatial world. Also, kids need some guidance and tutelage regarding the importance of geography, to demonstrate to them how cool technology is (like they really need to be shown this), how their lives are affected by geography (certainly true), and how their lives can benefit from knowing more about technology and geography, especially for when the day arrives when they need gainful employment.

Enter “geomentoring.” Geomentoring is the coaching of people who are curious about the geography going on around them in the form of geospatial technology.

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In April 2015, myself and another faculty member held a day-long workshop for people in our university community. Our 1st “geomentoring” workshop skimmed the basics, honestly. We showed our audience of nine adults the above “Geospatial Revolution” video. Dr. Z led a discussion of the video, segueing into a discussion of satellites and sensors, how our eyes process information, of shape and of color.

From here, Dr. Z led participants through a sample exercise using ESRI’s ArcGIS Online. Using materials easily available on, the participants were coached in the use of ArcGIS Online and were provided a walk-through of using middle school science exercises specifically developed with current science standards in mind. Geoinquiries available on ESRI’s EdCommunity: GeoInquiries for Earth Science (link). ESRI, ESRI partners, and regular school teachers have already created some content to get people thinking about what they can do to encourage other people to do more thinking. The content available on the EdCommunity helps provide a model for others to develop new content.

Geomentoring1In the afternoon, I took over and handed out a dozen Trimble Juno 3B handheld GPS units. I recently learned some details about “inquiry-based learning.” In a nutshell, IBL turns learning over to the students. A teacher might be tempted to show all students how to turn on their GPS units, for example. Not with IBL. Just hand them the unit. Let them figure out how to turn it on.

Now in my case, I did show the participants what software we needed to use once they had their units turned on. But, I left launching the application up to them. In fact, I told them:

“I’ve learned a little about inquiry-based learning recently. So, I’m going to turn the tables on you. I’m not going to show you anything; you need to discover this stuff yourself. You can ask questions. Don’t be surprised if I reply saying, “I don’t know. How many satellites are visible?””

My comment had little impact on the first workshop participants. Most of these folks were educated but not in Education. When I made the above comments to our 2nd workshop participants, 12 local middle and high school teachers, some were amused, others not so much.

My point in providing little instruction was two-fold. First, I wanted the teachers on the receiving end of inquiry-based learning. As educators, sometimes we put into action plans we ourselves have not experienced. Conversely, I also wanted to see if I was doing IBL correctly. What better way to challenge my IBL implementation but against a dozen seasoned teachers?

My other goal was to communicate to them these ease of which some geospatial learning happens. I distributed a dozen GPS units to the teachers in our 2nd workshop. I gave a brief overview of my expectations. We went outside and discussed the type of geography we would capture, points, lines, or polygons. We discussed details about scale. I gave them a time limit. Then, I instructed them to return to our computer lab where I would demonstrate how to use ArcGIS Online and help them get their geography uploaded and mapped.

From start to finish, the activity took about 90 minutes, from about 1.30pm to about 3.00pm. From 3.00pm to 4.00pm Dr. Z and I answered questions, gave tips, and helped the teachers think about how this activity might be used in the classroom. In any classroom.

My experience with teaching activities is teachers must be able to reach into practical experience in order to compensate for activities which are only superficially multidisciplinary. I say, “superficially,” because the students are given a word problem from some pretty-colored workbook written by committee and describing some event or circumstance. The student is then asked to solve a math problem about this contrived event or situation. Why not put them in that situation? Or, take them outside and walk through a similar situation and then have them work through the data they collect.

I did a brief lecture in workshop #2, similar to one I give my Introduction to Cartography students. Yes, this is geography, I state, and mapping, but maps are numbers we have constructed a picture from, a picture which communicates a theme, an idea, or a story. Beginning as numbers, we can use some fundamental math skills. Our Earth can be described as numbers: “The Earth has a circumference of 40,000km. How many miles is this? How many degrees does a circle have? We know the Earth’s circumference is a circle, and our circle has a circumference of 40,000km, and a circle has 360 degrees, how many miles per degree are there at the Equator?” The Earth can then be divided into smaller and smaller components, and students in middle school and high school can begin to realize the importance of location and how we can locate stuff.

One good way to demonstrate this is to take a simple cheap child’s play ball, usually available from a drug store for about $1. Get a few of these balls, distribute with a Sharpie, and have the students figure out how to create a location system for the ball. “How do you decide where the Equator goes? How do you decide where a Prime Meridian goes? How can we create a system for uniquely locating something on this ball?”

Once the students have been engaged in figuring out how to locate unique places on their pretend planet, then take them outside with their GPS. Discuss latitude and longitude, break things down for the students. Open the discussion up to other forms of coordinate systems. Then, discuss the necessity of map projections and why moving from a 3-dimensional surface to a 2-dimensional surface can create a number of problems, like tearing, shearing, and compression.

Using ArcGIS Online for Education teachers can help students upload their GPS data into the “cloud.” Recently, ESRI and Jack Dangermond bequeathed about $1 billion dollars worth of software to state education departments. Public schools across the United States have access to a wide variety of GIS software, some easy-to-use, other bits not-so-much. But, that is OK; GIS can be consumed from a sippy up.

Without downloading any software, students can take their GPS data and upload the data into the ESRI GIS cloud. Some GPS devices will create a collection of data files with the unfortunate moniker of “shapefile.” This shapefile can be zipped and uploaded into ArcGIS Online. Once uploaded and added to AGO, the GPS path can be symbolized and draped upon some nice aerial photography or satellite imagery.

Check you local college, university, or even to find a person nearby to help deliver and advocate geospatial technology in your classrooms.


One thought on “Geomentoring Workshop for Teachers

  1. Pingback: Summer Work in Higher Education | Constant Geography

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